I’ve now read two books about pandemics this year. Dr. Michael Greger’s How to Survive a Pandemic, however, is especially relevant because it was written and published after the COVID-19 outbreak began. How he managed that feat is beyond me!
Perhaps it was a combination of having his speaking schedule wiped clean and the extra energy he gets from his plant-based diet? Whatever made this remarkable book possible, I’m grateful for the opportunity to read it.
How to Survive a Pandemic details “three great epidemiological transitions in human history.”
1. The first occurred when newly domesticated animals began transmitting “barnyard diseases,” such as tuberculosis, measles or smallpox to humans.
Dr Greger points out that these diseases were unknown in the Americas until Europeans carried them here — possibly because the indigenous Americans raised very few animals for slaughter. Highly contagious diseases seemed to ignore their llamas and guinea pigs, so their civilizations thrived while pandemics were destroying other ancient ones.
2. The second era arrived with the 18th- and 19th- century Industrial Revolution, and remains with us today. “Diseases of civilization,” including cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes now account for 7 out of 10 deaths in the United States — and the majority of deaths worldwide.
Thankfully, we now know that changes in diet and lifestyle can largely prevent these diseases.
3. The third age of human disease started with the “emergence (or reemergence) of zoonotic diseases. Medical historians describe these past 40 years as “the age of the emerging plagues.”
How worried should we be? In Dr. Greger’s words:
“Never in medical history have so many new diseases appeared in so short a time and the trend is continuing. We may now soon be facing, according to the national academies of medicine, a catastrophic storm of microbial threats.”
What is responsible for this “third wave” continuing to build over the course of my lifetime? An exploding human population has forced wild animals out of their natural environments and existences and into increasingly artificial ones.
Dr. Greger asserts throughout the book that by intensively confining the animals we raise for food, we’re inviting outbreaks of disease. He says of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) practices:
“We need to give these animals more breathing room. They are the ones who could use some social distancing. To lower our risk of generating increasingly dangerous farm animal flu viruses, the global meat and egg industries must reverse course away from greater intensification.”
In fact, Dr. Greger reveals that animals living outdoors are much less likely to spread disease. One study researching the deadly H5N1 bird flu found that an infected chicken confined with four other birds was the only one to die.
But when an infected bird was confined with 13 others in the same size room, five of them sickened and three died. Just as we do, animals need social distancing.
Dr. Greger also recommends wearing surgical masks instead of cloth ones and regularly cleaning your hands with 60- to 80-percent alcohol wipes instead of soap and water.
What’s missing from his list of recommendations, however, is any mention of a “miracle-cure” food to stave off COVID-19. He refuses to jump on the “foods to boost your immune system” bandwagon in relation to this disease.
There’s simply not enough research directly associating food and positive impacts on flu. How to Survive a Pandemic instead asserts that, until we change the way we eat, devastating viruses will continue to plague humanity.
“On the one hand, it’s true that it doesn’t matter what you eat. I mean, once a pandemic flu virus has jumped from livestock, the risk shifts from eating to breathing. On the other hand, in some ways, protecting ourselves against pandemics is all about what we eat.”
We must spread the word that intensive factory farming operations aren’t the way to a pandemic-free future. A diet of CAFO-raised food is a fool’s diet!